Books: Glued to the Box : Steve doesn't smoke |
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Steve doesn't smoke

‘Delicate little stun screw here,’ whispered the voice-over in World Championship Snooker (BBC2). One of those adolescent Space Invaders champions who can shoot down sixty-four enemy battle fleets, Steve Davis was so obviously unstoppable that the tournament went a bit flat. Nevertheless I watched every day and evening, since there was always plenty of tension attached to the issue of which player would manage to smoke the most of the sponsor’s free cigarettes. The commentators refer to the ‘Embassy World Championship’ at all times, but what really matters to the Embassy people is the spectacle of a star player taking a drag on the product between winning breaks.

This year everything should have been rosier than ever for the sponsor. The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, was jammed to the rafters with a snooker-crazed audience all ready to smoke like chimneys in emulation of their heroes. Presumably there were millions of viewers out there keen to do the same. But there was a joker in the pack. Steve Davis doesn’t smoke. That was the sub-text during an otherwise unexciting final match, in which Doug Mountjoy was frozen out.

‘This is a desperate situation for Doug Mountjoy,’ whispered the commentators. But it was an even more desperate situation for the sponsor. With Davis not smoking at all, it scarcely helped that Mountjoy was smoking his head off. ‘Watching the title drift away.’ Mountjoy, the close-ups told you, was watching it drift away on a cloud of Embassy cigarette smoke. Still, as long as Davis didn’t actually mention not smoking, the sponsors might still make something out of the day.

Davis won and was hailed by David Vine. ‘Can I now ask,’ David bellowed, ‘the presentation party to come out on stage? Managing director, W. D. & H. O. Wills ... manager ... Embassy ...’ Young Steve folded the cheque and put it in his pocket before accepting the trophy. ‘I’d like to thank Embassy,’ he said. The sponsors beamed. ‘Unfortunately I don’t smoke ...’

26 April, 1981